Whitwick High Tor Farm bonfire from 1911 featured on cover of new book

7 July 2022

A new book on the tradition of hilltop bonfires, published in June to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, features an image on its cover of a bonfire on High Tor Farm in Whitwick in 1911.

‘Hilltop Bonfires: Marking Royal Events’ by retired Environmental Science Lecturer Tom Welsh, grew out of the author’s interest in Landscape History.  ‘I research documents about both urban and rural landscapes, and I go on walk about to interpret and understand those landscapes,’ he said.

Tom’s book looks into the general British tradition of hilltop fires in the 19th and 20th centuries, whether bonfires or baskets, beacons of communication during times of national crisis or staged in celebration as for Queen Victoria’s Golden and Diamond Jubilees and royal coronations from 1902 onwards.  Tom also discusses superstitions traditionally associated with bonfires.

Other than the photograph on its cover, the book doesn’t discuss hilltop bonfires in the Charnwood area, such as the one at Bradgate Park associated with the story of Old John

‘I couldn’t find out about the 1911 High Tor Farm bonfire, which looks [to be] 40 feet high, whilst the one described for Whitwick Beacon at the time was only 25 feet high,’ Tom said.  High Tor Farm, it seems, is now owned by Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust.

The 1911 image shows the presence of scouts, whose duties included guarding the bonfire from sabotage and being lit before the relevant event. ‘You often see photos with scout tents in the background of George V’s silver jubilee events in 1935.’

It’s heartening to know that despite the atrocious weather experienced in the UK over the Jubilee Bank Holiday weekend, the long-tradition of lighting beacons to commemorate royal events continued in Charnwood and elsewhere across the country to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II’s 70th year on the throne.

You can find Tom’s book on Amazon here.